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Temple Terrace man drugged, raped runaway teen he kept imprisoned, police say

TEMPLE TERRACE — Two years ago, a young couple had drinks at the home of George Renju Thomas, a man they had just met online.

The drinks tasted funny. Both of them began to feel sleepy.

Later, when the woman talked to police, she remembered being led into the bedroom. When she woke, Thomas punched her in the face and chased her fiance, who ran out of the house naked.

This episode, which led to a battery conviction, is how neighbors most remember Thomas — a man police say held another young pair hostage in his Temple Terrace house this month, forcing them to have sex as he videotaped. One was 16.

Thomas, 31, was arrested over the weekend and faces two counts of armed kidnapping, two counts of sexual battery with a weapon, sexual performance of a child and promoting sexual performance by a child.

He is being held in a Hillsborough County jail. A judge denied him bail.

Thomas had been arrested in Florida 19 times before, including multiple times on charges of driving under the influence, records show. Officers have been called to his house more than 50 times since 2002.

His latest arrest doesn't surprise his neighbors.

"He had a lot of problems," said Jay Hilt, who lives across the street. "It wasn't a matter of if, but of when something bad would happen."

• • •

On Sept. 11, Thomas drove by a 16-year-old girl walking down Williams Road. The girl had run away from her foster mother, police said, and Thomas offered her a ride.

She said she needed a place to crash, police said, and that's how she ended up at Thomas' house at 12607 Rain Forest St.

Once at the home, Thomas forced the girl to have sex with him three times. He threatened to kill her if she left, a police report said.

He gave her vodka and oxycodone, said Temple Terrace spokesman Michael Dunn.

Two days later, the girl contacted a friend on Facebook, asking for help to get her away from the "trap house," the report said.

She had access to a phone, but was afraid to call 911 because Thomas had threatened to hurt her if she called police, Dunn said. She was able to log onto Facebook when he was sleeping.

The girl's friend, an 18-year-old man, arrived. He was dropped off by another friend, who drove off right away, Dunn said.

But once the man was inside, Thomas forced the two at gunpoint to have sex while he recorded it on a cell phone camera and webcam, police said.

A few days later, on Sept. 16, Thomas brought the victims to an undisclosed location in St. Petersburg, police said.

He had realized he couldn't keep the two at his house indefinitely, Dunn said, so he asked them where they wanted to go.

A woman at the St. Petersburg location called police, who contacted Temple Terrace police.

After his arrest, Thomas admitted having sex with one of the two and recording the sex acts between him and the victims, the report said. Police listed him as a member of a gang affiliated with the Folk Nation.

• • •

Thomas moved to the United States from India in the early '80s with his mother, father and little sister. In 1988, the family bought the house in the Raintree subdivision.

But in 1990, six years after moving to Florida, his father was shot to death by a robber as he worked at a convenience store on Nebraska Avenue.

His mother remarried, and neighbors say that it seemed as if, suddenly, one day she just moved out of her home in Raintree, allowing her adult son to stay. Records show she owns a home in a gated community in New Tampa, and she could not be reached there Monday.

Police say Thomas works as an orderly at a Tampa nursing home, Bay Gardens Retirement Village. His younger sister, Elsa Thomas, is listed as an administrator for the retirement home. She declined to comment.

• • •

The issue of runaway foster teens is a major concern of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Tampa-based spokesman Terry Field.

The agency is constantly working to reduce the number of runaways, partly because they can become victims of crime, he said.

"They're very vulnerable," he said.

These teens have often already been victims of abuse or neglect, Field said. A simple offer of kindness can win them over, even if there's an ulterior motive.

He couldn't give any details about the 16-year-old victim in this case, citing privacy laws. Her name has not been released.

• • •

Monday afternoon, neighbors stood outside and talked about what police said happened inside the tan home with a dark brown roof.

Several said their problems with Thomas began years ago.

In 2005, next-door neighbor Paul Weed called police after Thomas yelled obscenities at him and his 11-year-old son as they played catch in the front yard.

Just a few weeks earlier, Thomas had pulled down his pants in front of Weed's wife and shouted an obscenity, Kim Weed wrote in a police statement.

Thomas was charged with aggravated stalking. A judge withheld adjudicated but sentenced him to a year of probation, state records show.

"We wouldn't even let our children play in the front yard, we just had an instinct that something wasn't right," said Thomas' other next-door neighbor, Carol Hines-Cobb.

Hines-Cobb said when Thomas' mother visited her son, she wouldn't go in the house. She'd wait in the driveway.

Times staff writer Danny Valentine and researchers Natalie Watson and John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Temple Terrace man drugged, raped runaway teen he kept imprisoned, police say 09/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2010 11:17pm]
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